Scope of Protective Services For Adults
The Concept of Self-determination
To report adult abuse, call (within New York State only): 1-800-342-3009 (Press Option 6) or
contact the local county Department of Social Services Adult Protective Services.
Adults, unlike children, are legally presumed to be competent. Even people with a mental illness are presumed to be competent and therefore have the right to exercise free choice in making decisions. This is the concept of self-determination and means that services, interventions and assistance, even if desperately needed, can be refused by the individual at risk. Protective Services for adults may be provided on an involuntary basis only when it is demonstrated (usually through a mental health evaluation conducted by a qualified mental health professional) that the individual lacks the ability to understand the consequences of his or her actions and decisions.
The Human Services Community and the concerned public should therefore understand that perceived inactivity by PSA might be caused by a competent adult's refusal to accept help.
The Least Restrictive Alternative
The U.S. Supreme Court stated in Shelton vs. Tucker, 364 U.S. 479 (1960): "Even though the governmental purpose be legitimate and substantial, that purpose cannot be pursued by means that broadly stifle fundamental personal liberties when the end can be more narrowly achieved." In cases when an involuntary protective services intervention is sought-for example, civil commitment-the court should inquire whether there is any less restrictive alternative that will adequately protect the needs of the impaired individual. This concept is written into the Social Services Law and the Mental Hygiene Law of the State of New York.
One of the primary goals of Protective Services for Adults is the provision of services that maximize an individual's independence, freedom and decision-making ability. The least restrictive interventions should begin with those interventions that are voluntary.